I’m ready for spring. I’m ready for warmth. I want to start poking seeds in the ground and get dirt under my fingernails, to start tromping in the woods, to see green, to start shedding my winter insulation. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath, and desperately need to catch it. I feel like I want something, but don’t know what it is. I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s weird, not bad, just strange. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I always do. Thanks for humoring me… I needed to get that out. The picture above is of one of my sons and I tromping in the woods two springs ago. My other son was the photographer.
Posts Tagged ‘foraging’
Most of my herbie friends are about 2 weeks ahead of me on their foraging projects, and have already shared their violet projects. My friend, Maggie, was featured on the cover of Radish Magazine with her violet jelly recipe.
After an unusually long, cool spring, and Indiana’s wettest spring on record in a 100 years, my violets finally hit full bloom in the past week. Fearful of more crazy weather, I was out gathering violets at first opportunity.
In case you’re wondering what on earth you would do with violet syrup, here are a few suggestions: Serve with crepes or pancakes, add it to champagne or a white wine spritzer, drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, pour over shaved ice for a cool summer treat, or use it as a cocktail mixer for a violet martini or violet gin fizz.
Making violet syrup is as simple as brewing a cup of tea, and making simple syrup.
Fill a jar with violets flowers. Pour boiling water over violets and allow to cool. Strain liquid from flowers. Don’t be alarmed at the color of the water. It will range anywhere from blue to green, but will be adjusted to purple later. Here is what mine looked like in the first 30 seconds of steeping. The picture doesn’t do the color justice. Even fiddling with my camera settings, I was not able to capture the deep rich quality of the color. You’ll probably see what I mean if you try making your own syrup. Further steeping darkens the color.
At a 1:1 ratio, place violet liquid and sugar in a large pan. I used a quart jar and ended up with 3 cups of violet water, so I used 3 cups of sugar.
Add lemon juice to the mixture until the desired color of violet is achieved. It doesn’t take much, and too much will result in magenta or pink syrup. It took a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to bring my syrup to a deep jewel toned violet color.
Bring syrup mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. If the color fades a little during cooking, you can add a few more drops of lemon juice to readjust the color before bottling. Cool and store in the refrigerator. This syrup can become moldy if stored for long periods of time in the refrigerator. I plan to try freezing some this year to see if I can extend violets into the winter months.
I promise this will be my last entry for ramps, then I’ll move along to something else. When ramps season rolls around again next year, I’ll only pester you with one mention of the subject.
Martinis can be a contentious subject. There are those who prefer vodka martinis, and purists who insist that real martinis are made with gin. Vodka or gin? Shaken or stirred? Olive, onion, or lemon? Vermouth or no vermouth? Every dedicated martini drinker has their preference, and this recipe is based on how I like my martini. Ramps provide a seasonal departure from my typical dirty martini with 3 or 4 olives. I like my ratio of gin to vermouth at 4:1.
Dirty Ramp Martini
2 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin
1/2 ounce Noilly Prat Vermouth (I DO NOT like the Martini & Rossi… blech!)
Splash of ramp brine
Pickled Ramp for garnishing
Place gin, vermouth, and ramp brine in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a pickled ramp.
Cheers! And please remember to drink responsibly.
Compound butters are a great way to sneak more flavor into your cooking and they also provide a way to preserve short-lived seasonal flavors. Spring flavors are always favorites, but the window of opportunity is often as short as only one or two weeks. If you don’t take advantage of that window, it will be a whole year before you get to taste those flavors again.
Ramp butter is extremely versatile. Use it in any way you would use butter and onion or garlic. Instead of garlic bread, you could try warm toasty ramp bread. I love to use ramp butter to make my morning eggs…. even better if I had a fresh morel or two to throw in the pan (no such luck this year).
Ramp Compound Butter
1/2 pound butter, softened to room temperature
Baker’s dozen cleaned ramps, or approximately 6 ounces
Zest from 1/2 lemon or lime
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
Place butter in bowl, set aside. Blanch ramps in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove to an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Blanching the ramps will help them retain a bright green color when you freeze the finished butter.
Squeeze as much water out of the ramps as possible and then chop them up. I like to chop the bulb part finely, and the greens a little on the coarse side so I get a nice pattern in the butter when I slice it off the roll.
Add the chopped ramps, zest, and lemon or lime juice to the butter and blend thoroughly with a spoon or spatula.
On a piece of parchment paper, form the butter into a long log. Roll the butter tightly in the parchment paper and twist both ends. Store your butter rolls in the freezer until ready for use.
Not only was it Mother’s Day this past Sunday, but it was also my birthday. On such occasions that my birthday lands on Mom’s Day, I commandeer the whole weekend and make lots of demands. On Friday evening I demanded Mexican food, margaritas, and a movie. Nobody complained because it meant they all got dinner and a movie too. On Saturday my husband brought me a load of dirt for my newest raised bed. On Sunday I wanted yard work, gardening, and a walk in the woods to forage wild edibles. I spent some enjoyable time with my family, and came back from the woods with a big batch of one of my favorite spring delicacies, ramps. Because the season for ramps is only a couple of weeks long, I prolong it by making some refrigerated pickled ramps and compound butter for the freezer. The pickled ramps make a tasty martini (Gibson) garnish. The ramp butter can be used melted over vegetables, on crusty warm bread, to make your morning scramble, or anything in which you’d like to ramp up the flavor (pun intended).
The amounts given below are for each pint of pickled ramps. I like my pickles vinegary, so I never add sweetener to my pickling brine.
Ramps, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon peppercorn
Place cleaned and trimmed ramps in jars. Combine vinegar, water, salt and spices into a pan and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over ramps. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in refrigerator.
Now, it’s confession time. I just gave you the traditional method for pickled ramps. I only make a couple of jars and they don’t last long, so I skip a step. I don’t heat the brine. I just pour it cold over the ramps and stick the jars in the refrigerator. I’ve also used other spices in the past. You can use mustard seed, celery seed, coriander, thyme, red pepper flakes….. get imaginative.
Not one to be wasteful, I even use the pickling brine. With it’s strong oniony-galicky-leeky flavor (just how do you describe the flavor or ramps?), the brine is wonderful mixed with a little olive oil for a vinaigrette.
Oh, and for the ramp butter, and ramp martini….. stay tuned!
This past weekend, my husband and I went out to forage elderberries. We noticed that the berries seem to be ripening a little more quickly than last year, and wanted to get some before the birds did. Last year I dried enough elderberries, and made enough tincture to supply a small army. The berries we picked this weekend went to my dad to make elderberry wine. I plan to pick some more this coming weekend which I will can as juice with honey, lemon juice, and a little ginger.
I just got the following email from my dad this morning:
“I thought you might be interested to know that we’ve got one of the hottest ferments going that I’ve ever seen. I made a yeast starter about 12 hours before pitching the yeast. When I put it in the batch it started bubbling vigorously within three hours. This morning is going like “gangbusters”. Doing the juice extraction by simmering was a good choice because it gave us a really rich, ruby red juice with no sign of “green goo”. I think this is going to be a good batch. Dad”
Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to tell you how the wine turns out for about 18 months. The process begins with primary fermentation and progresses to racking, fining, and bottling about 6 months later. Aging will take another year.
While we were out picking elderberries, I grabbed some ripe Sumac berries so I could make some Sumac Lemonade at home. Now before you get alarmed, this is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and not the much less common poison variety (Toxicodendron vernix or Rhus vernix).
Staghorn Sumac berries are covered in a layer of a sort of fuzzy red, waxy powder. When collecting the berries, the easiest way to know if they are ready is to rub the berries between your fingers and then lick your fingers. If the taste is sour you know they’re ready. This tartness comes from ascorbic acid (vitamin C). We haven’t had much rain this month, so the Sumac berries are in good shape. Rain will wash off the berries, taking the tart flavor with it. It’s also a good idea to choose clusters of berries that look relatively clean. It’s best not to rinse the berries before making the lemonade.
Sumac berries are slightly diuretic and laxative, so don’t go hog wild and drink a whole pitcher of the lemonade, or you may be visiting the restroom frequently. However, if you’re having difficulty in that department, then a pitcher of the lemonade may be just the herbal remedy that you’ve been looking for. While we’re on the subject of herbal remedies, I though I would mention that Sumac has a long standing history of use in Native American and Appalachian folk medicine.
To make the Sumac Lemonade I placed some of the berries in a bowl of cold water. I rubbed the berries a little bit, and then set the bowl aside for about an half hour to infuse. It’s important to use cold water. Boiling the berries will bring out tannins, resulting in a bitter unpleasant drink. Also, the longer you infuse the berries the stronger the flavor will be.
After infusing the Sumac, I poured the resulting liquid through a coffee filter. I know some directions will call for straining through cheesecloth, but even with a coffee filter I still get a fine red sediment at the bottom of my container. If you look closely at the picture to the left, you will see a small amount of a fine red sediment in the bottom of the glass.
Sweeten the Sumac Lemonade to taste and enjoy!
I’ve been itching to get out to do some foraging, but wasn’t willing to brave the heat and humidity of last week. Finally, at a tolerable 85 degrees, I gathered my courage and went for a walk. Grabbing a water bottle, camera, and my gathering basket I headed to the meadow first to check on the Prickly Ash.
I first discovered the Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) last summer. After reading up on it, I’ve been looking forward to trying my hand at making some bitters with it. I also learned that the dried berry husks are known as Szechuan Pepper used in Asian cooking. The berries are oily with a strong spicy citrus scent. I learned the hard way to taste very carefully. Chewing on these little guys results in a tingly numbing sensation that takes a little while to wear off. Thus one of the nicknames for this shrubby tree, “toothache tree“. Another use for Prickly Ash that I’m interested in exploring is as an herbal remedy for arthritis. Picking the berries was a little tedious. They are very small, so I had to take my time and also avoid the nasty sharp thorns running up and down the branches. If you look at the photo above, you can see a shadowy silhouette of one of the thorns in the middle of the cluster of berries.
Next, I moved on through the meadow, heading for a neighboring field where there is always plenty of red clover. I snapped some pictures along the way.
This is purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) that escaped on of the flower beds at the house and naturalized in the field. I’ve been leaving it alone, giving it the chance to spread before I attempt to harvest any. It has doubled since last year, and if it doubles again I may be comfortable taking a little next fall.
There were butterflies everywhere. I was able to capture this small Meadow Fritillary sunning itself on some Canadian Thistle seed heads.
Tansy is another escapee from my gardens, and has been invading the meadow at a rather alarming pace over the last couple of years. This is one that I wish would slow down. After arriving at the red clover, I quickly gathered a basket full.
The reason I’ve been a little desperate to get my hands on a good supply of red clover is because I’m one of “those” slightly insane middle aged women who could use some help. Red clover has long been used by herbalist for a variety of conditions. My main interest lies in what some modern studies are suggesting in regards to the isoflavones (some of which have estrogen like properties) found in red clover. Believe me! The guys in my household are all on the band wagon for my experimenting with red clover tea. It’s their fervent hope that they may get some relief from the craziness brought on by this particular phase in my life.
When I was composing this particular picture, I was so focused on the bloom that I never noticed the little insects. It was a pleasant surprise to find these little hitchhikers when I was editing the photos. While picking the clover I made a rather disturbing observation. Here I am in this huge field full of clover and I never saw a single honeybee. My husband and I used to be hobbyist beekeepers. We gave it up a few years ago due to time constraints. It wasn’t too long after that we started hearing about colony collapse disorder. Just last year this field was humming with honeybees. Not good!
I saved foraging the Jewelweed for last, because it was going to involve venturing into the woods. I wanted to be in and out of that place as quickly as possible, because I knew I was going to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. There isn’t a bug-off potion in the world that can deal with the clouds of little blood suckers inhabiting my woods right now. I wasn’t wrong.
Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is the variety growing in my woods. I wanted to make a couple of different types of poison ivy treatments from the plant so I can decide which one I like the most. Jewelweed ice cubes and an infusion in vinegar. The next time I pick up some poison ivy I’ll let you know which remedy worked the best for me.